Vacation 2013: Cruising the Rhine, seniors style – Part 3

Barriere senior Jim Hodgetts shares his 2013 Rhine River cruise vacation with our readers

The home of Black Forest cuckoo clocks and Black Forest cake.

The home of Black Forest cuckoo clocks and Black Forest cake.

Day Five – Mainz & Heidelberg

Today the boat is stopped at Mainz, on the left bank of the Rhine River.  Opposite the mouth of the Main River, Mainz is reported to be Germany’s largest and most important wine town.Gutenburg, the father of modern printing was born here.  A visit to the Gutenburg Museum was on the schedule.

After lunch on board, we had a visit to Heidelberg, Germany’s oldest university town.  The walk to Heidelberg castle was planned, so we skipped that – the knees are not what they used to be.  Instead, we relaxed in the aft lounge and reaquainted my taste buds with some of the local flavour.  Well, it is in the centre of wine country.

A very pleasant day, sun shining, lots to see on the river.  Never seems to be empty of traffic.  The scenery is great on the river.  You get the real sense of hundreds of years of history, completely unlike North America.

On to Strasbourg, France.

Day Six – Strasbourg

A cold wind was blowing as we left the boat and walked into the town from the waterfront.  The first stop was the gothic cathedral.  We are told that the spires took 150 years to complete.  Inside the church it was crowded with different tour groups.  As a hearing aid wearer, I could not use the ear receiver that was tuned to our guide, so I missed a lot of what she was saying.  However, we did see a huge clock that I think she said was made in the 1600s, and it is still keeping perfect time.

The inside of this very tall and drafty building has many stained glass windows.  Apparently, they were removed during WW2 and stored away.  Good thought, as the area was liberated by US forces, and I am sure there was a lot of damage.  I left the cathedral and wandered around town for an hour that I had left.  Very interesting; many people speaking many different languages.

Returning to our boat, we had a buffet lunch, then boarded a canal boat and had a very interesting trip around Strasbourg.  We came up a canal and the building that houses the European Parliament was in front of us.  The ministers meet here once a month.  Hope this cooperation continues.

After this we had a side trip to a local winery.  I have to say it was most informative.  Our host explained very clearly how each variety was suitable for various meals.  Beautiful old building; the wooden beams over the room were over 100 years old, and the biggest wine caskets I have ever seen.  Our tour was alone and we had a very enjoyable social hour.

Time to return to our ship and set sail up the Rhine to our last stop, and a trip to the Black Forest.

Day seven – Breisach, Germany

Day seven was a bright sunny day, a great day to get on our coach for the over one hour trip up to the Black Forest.  We are going to stop at a master carver who carves the cuckoo clocks.  My traveling partner wanted one of these clocks to take back to Canada.  The gentleman who carves the outside cases for the clocks, from the black forest pine, had been on our ship the previous night and had shown the type of carving that he did.  We also were told that they shipped the clocks to your home, in a secure container.  The clock that she purchased arrived safe and without damage.

Of course, they also served black forest cake, in big chunks – yum.  The lady guide on our coach had a lovely lilting voice that was a pleasure to listen to, and she kept us entertained the trip up and down.  We traveled through many small towns, all of which looked very clean, with the buildings in excellent repair.

We were lucky to see storks in nests sitting on people’s rooftops.  Going to the place where they sell the cuckoo clocks, someone asked if there was a cuckoo bird. Oh yes, she replied, but the cuckoo is not a very nice bird.  She explained that this bird was very lazy and didn’t want to make a nest, so she would find another bird’s next, break the other bird’s eggs, throw them out of the nest, and leave hers.  When the egg hatched, the other bird would think it was hers and feed it.  To prove her story, they had pictures of a perplexed looking bird with a newly hatched bird twice the size of the mother bird.

As we got closer to the mountains of the Black Forest, all of the buildings had a very similar look.  The roofs almost came down to touch the ground.  She explained that because of the snow, they all lived in the same building.  Their livestock lived in the stable part, and the family lived in the rest.  Most efficient.  All of the roofs were covered with solar panels; literally thousands of solar panels.  I presume that they used solar power for most everything.

As we were winding our way back down the paved but narrow mountain twisty road, and moving along at a good clip, a truck going uphill came around a very sharp corner about 50 feet from us.  Both drivers had very good reflexes, as both stopped and as we passed the truck, I could see about four inches of clearance.

A very good day for our last full day on our cruise up the Rhine.  We set sail for Basel, Switzerland, where we were all leaving the next morning for our return home.  After dinner, they have a captain’s farewell reception in the lounge.  Our cruise director Heinrich, who worked tirelessly to make sure all aspects of our trip were enjoyable, did a very fantastic job.  Having worked in the public sector, it can be frustrating at times, but he did leave us with a final comment which summed up the trip.  He said, “the weather wasn’t the best, but you all were – thank you for a very pleasant voyage.”

Now the last part of the captain’s farewell reception.  He didn’t give a speech, he sang two songs in a very nice baritone.

This company delivered in every part of the expectations I had prior to the cruise.  As a senior, it was relaxing and very, very enjoyable.